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JD.com Seeks to Develop Underground Logistics Systems

Seeking to advance its logistics capabilities and ease environmental problems in China, JD.com is looking to go underground.

As part of its planned Urban Smart Logistics Institute, a new research center in Xiongan, China, dedicated to developing futuristic automation technology for urban logistics in China’s smart cities, the e-commerce powerhouse said it will look first at developing underground logistics systems. These operations would make use of subterranean tracks and integrated municipal pipe corridors and, in turn, help preserve open, convenient and aesthetically pleasing above-ground space that normally would be used for traditional logistics systems, the company said.

“The most effective smart cities are the ones that make best use of all available space and resources,” said Chen Xiangsheng, director of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, at the Institute’s launch event during the 2018 Global Smart Supply Chain Summit in Beijing last week. “The use of underground space to build a three-dimensional smart logistics system is an industry game-changer. It will alleviate traffic problems, environmental problems and save urban space.”

According to JD, research shows freight vehicles have an outsized contribution to urban traffic emissions and can take up as much as 33 percent of road capacity. With urbanization in China causing intense changes to the environment, creating pollution and causing other disruptions to people’s lives, the institute’s primary goal is to design the framework for logistics in urban spaces to be more efficient and environmentally friendly.

“As China’s cities are developing faster and becoming more sophisticated, sustainable urban development is critical,” said JD Logistics CEO Zhenhui Wang. “Smart logistics ensures that space in cities is being used in the most efficient and least disruptive way possible. We are committed to revolutionizing global commerce and society more broadly.”

The concept is the latest ambitious project from JD.com, which already operates a string of unmanned convenience stores, fleets of autonomous delivery robots and a fully automated warehouse.

Entrepreneur Elon Musk this week said his underground transport system, dubbed Hyperloop, could be ready for testing in Los Angles as early as December. Musk’s tunnels are intended to feature a network of electric “sleds” that could move vehicles at speeds of up to 125 mph. The tunnels also could accommodate Hyperloop pods—train cars designed to travel in vacuum sealed tubes and shuttle people and materials between cities at speeds as high as 600 miles per hour.